Slow bowlers take Kolkata to dramatic win
Kolkata Knight Riders edged out Champions League debutants Auckland Aces, successfully defending 121 in the sides' first qualifier. Kolkata ran away with 72 for 0 in the first nine overs before the tenacious Auckland side pulled the game back, conceding just 49 runs in the remaining 11. Lou Vincent then scored 30 of his 40 runs in boundaries, even threatening a huge net run-rate advantage, but his run-out was followed by two wickets in three balls from Yusuf Pathan. The squeeze by Kolkata's slower bowlers, who went for 66 in their 14 overs, left Auckland 22 to get off the last two. Andre Adams hit Jacques Kallis for a straight six to get 11 off the 19th, but Brett Lee's yorkers proved too good for him and Kyle Mills.
The game was full of turnarounds. The first one came after Manvinder Bisla and Kallis got Kolkata's campaign off to a smashing start. The inside-out shot over extra cover was a favourite for both, and Bisla was especially harsh on Chris Martin who bowled Test lengths to begin with. Bisla found them easy to pull and drive on the up. The left-arm seamer Michael Bates brought some control with his angle and extra bounce, and in his second over he produced a leading edge from Bisla.
Left-arm spinner Ronnie Hira and Martin then choked the runs a bit, and Kolkata started playing imprudent shots. Kallis would later say they had over-aimed. Yusuf was the first to show frustration, slogging all around a straight Adams delivery. Kallis fell next when he followed a spell of nine balls for seven runs with a heave straight to deep square leg. Two balls later, Manoj Tiwary slogged too, and the stumps lay splayed again. A couple of run-outs followed, and Kolkata never managed a final charge. Bates finished with figures of 4-0-13-1.
The run-out virus carried forward into the chase as Martin Guptill ran himself out without even facing a delivery. The decisive one, though, was yet to come. Before that, Vincent drove, cut and pulled with aplomb to take Auckland to 48 in six, bringing the asking-rate down to 5.28. Rajat Bhatia, now famous in Indian domestic Twenty20 competitions for his slow, rolling legcutters, and Yusuf bowled the next three overs for 12 runs. The last ball of those three featured impatience from Vincent, who charged off after hitting straight to cover, and couldn't make it back from eight yards.
Yusuf then bowled two full deliveries on the pads that hardly turned, but Jimmy Adams and Rob Quiney somehow managed two leading edges, and Yusuf had two caught-and-bowled dismissals in the space of three balls. Another left-hand batsman, Colin Munro, scratched around for 19 off 29 before leaving Auckland an improbable task in the last two.
The pitch was slow, the bowlers were steady, but neither of them or the combination thereof was unplayable. Somehow, though, faced with accurate bowling and alert fielding, Auckland allowed themselves to be pushed into a corner until the required-rate reached 11 for the last two. Kallis then bowled his first over, removing Munro first ball and watching the second sail over the straight boundary. Mills and Adams ran hard, but Lee produced a good last over to give Kolkata a crucial win on a day when they didn't play exceptional cricket.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo